I’m told a trip to Paris should be a treat in anyone’s life.
But only six weeks after the federal election, our newly elected prime minister, Justin Trudeau, will face his first foreign-policy challenge there. Will he make Canadians proud?
COP 21, the United Nations conference on climate change, starts in the French capital on the last day of November. The nations of the world will attempt to agree to targets for greenhouse gas emissions reductions that will prevent global temperatures from rising over 2 degrees Celsius. So far, there are prospects for an agreement to be signed, but little hope that these negotiations will be ambitious enough to successfully slow climate change. As a prime example, Canada has proposed an emissions reduction target, but it is the least ambitious of all G7 countries. Many Canadians — as well as people around the world — are quite certain Canada can do better.
Around the globe, there will be impressive activities in favour of climate action, featuring marches as the negotiations begin (including a major march and demonstration on Ottawa’s Parliament Hill) and “mass mobilization and action events” on Dec. 12, when COP 21 wraps up. Some groups are planning four days of non-violent protests in front of the prime ministerial residence in Ottawa. Environmental groups are calling for 80 per cent of fossil fuel reserves to be left in the ground, and that the planet transitions to 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050. (In case this seems unreasonable, remember that Stephen Harper has already agreed with his G7 peers to phase out fossil fuels use by 2100.)
Canadian churches are also organizing to try to positively influence the outcome of the Paris climate negotiations.
In late September, the 25-member denominations of the Canadian Council of Churches, representing 85 per cent of Canada’s Christians, released a statement that called on the federal government to “positively influence” negotiations in Paris, “establish more stringent and ambitious emission targets in Canada” and “provide $500 million in material assistance to assist the poorest and most affected countries to adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change.” Because this was the first time the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops joined ecumenical opinion on the topic of climate change, this statement deserves wide circulation and study in parishes.
In early October, a delegation of Canadian church leaders, including Churchill-Hudson Bay Bishop Wieslaw Krotki, travelled to northern Sweden for a conference entitled, The Future of Life in the Arctic: The Impact of Climate Change. Stating that, “climate justice for the Arctic is a spiritual issue,” they asked faith communities and people everywhere “to rededicate themselves to stand in solidarity and support the peoples in the North, who are now already survivors and leaders in responding to climate change.”
Delegates from the United Church of Canada, the Christian Reformed Church and Mennonite Church Canada will all travel to Paris in an attempt to meet with and encourage the official Canadian delegation to achieve more substantial results there.
To assist congregations to prayerfully support climate justice, Citizens for Public Justice has prepared Prayers for Paris — worship resources for the First Sunday in Advent (Nov. 29) — one day before the conference begins. Parishes can access hymn suggestions from the Catholic Book of Worship, bulletin inserts, videos, Prayers of the Faithful with environmental themes, and even homilies for that Sunday prepared by Saskatoon’s Bishop Don Bolen, among others. See: http://cpj.ca/un-climate-summit-2015
Pope Francis, in his June encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’, wrote: “It is remarkable how weak international political responses have been. The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance. There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good . . .” (54). The pontiff believes that, “Enforceable international agreements are urgently needed” (173), and that, “Even as this encyclical was being prepared, the debate was intensifying. We believers cannot fail to ask God for a positive outcome to the present discussions, so that future generations will not have to suffer the effects of our ill-advised delays” (169).
While asking God for a positive outcome, we believers also must act for climate justice, by changing our own lifestyles and demanding positive leadership from our newly elected Liberal government.
Gunn is the Ottawa-based executive director of Citizens for Public Justice, www.cpj.ca, a member-driven, faith-based public policy organization in Ottawa focused on ecological justice, refugee rights and poverty elimination.